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Rivalries, Rematches and...'R'thropods: 15 Games To Watch in 2011-12

On Monday, the NBA D-League released the schedule for its 11th season, an announcement that came on the heels of one of the most promising offseasons in the league history.

With more and more NBA teams opting for exclusive relationships with an NBA D-League affiliate – the number ballooned from four teams in 2010-11 to nine single-partner teams in 2011-12 – and two more teams (Springfield, Erie) adopting the hybrid model of ownership (in which the NBA partner runs Basketball Ops), optimism’s running high from the Northern Atlantic to the Pacific Coast.

But it’s a long season. And with each of the 16 teams playing a 50-game schedule – complete with 24 true home games, 24 away games and two at the D-League Showcase in January – we could all use some help in sorting out which games to circle on our e-calendars.

So, from a rematch of last year’s Finals right out of the gates to a showdown of multi-jointed mascots in February, start warming up your Futurecast.

November 25: Reunion Tour

D-Fenders @ Wizards

After a year off, the Los Angeles D-Fenders hit the court for the first time in the Eric Musselman era when they take on Dakota on opening night.

November 25: Baptism By Fire

Energy @ Canton

The defending D-League champions from Iowa open up play against the newest team in the league, when the Energy travel to Canton to play the Cavaliers’ new affiliate.

November 28 & 30: Been a While, Coach

Reno @ Los Angeles

In just his third and fourth games with L.A. Eric Musselman leads the D-Fenders against his old team. Just over four months ago, Musselman’s Bighorns team completed a 34-16 regular season – tops in the Western Conference – and advanced to the D-League semifinals, where they lost two straight games in OT to eventual runner-up (and 2010 champ) Rio Grande Valley.

Nov. 30 & Dec. 1: The Rematch

Rio Grande Valley @ Energy

Rio Grande Valley won't have to wait long to exact some revenge for last year's Finals loss to the Energy, when the Vipers visit Iowa on the first day of December for a matchup of the last two league champs (RGV won in 2010).

Last April 29, the Energy went on a 21-5 run to open the fourth quarter to take the lead for good, en route to a 119-111 win in Game 3 of one of the best Finals in league history. And although the game will feature a modified cast of characters this year, don’t expect any reduction in firepower.

December 2 & 3: Altitude vs. Riverdragons

66ers vs. Toros

In a ‘rematch’ of the 2004-05 NBA D-League Finals and a battle of two of the three teams with origins dating back to the D-League’s inaugural season in 2001-02, Tulsa (formerly the Ashville Altitude) plays a home-and-away series against Austin, the team formerly known as the Columbus Riverdragons.

The only other team with roots in '01-'02 is Canton, which started as the Hunstville Flight, turned into the Albuquerque Thunderbirds during the Great D-League Migration of 2005-06 (working title) and then went to Canton during this offseason. The 66ers and Toros play Canton in back-to-back games on Jan. 16 and 18.

December 14: Gotham, Jr.

BayHawks @ Armor

Erie opens up a four-game, five-day Northern swing in Springfield, where the New York Knicks-affiliated BayHawks take on the New Jersey Nets-affiliated Armor. It’s also a battle of the two newest teams to use the hybrid model – bringing the total to three, alongside Rio Grande Valley and the Rockets – in which the parent team runs Basketball Operations, but local ownership runs the business side.

December 16 & 17: So Much Drama in (and around) the LBC

Jam vs. D-Fenders

When the D-Fenders went on a one-year hiatus for the 2010-11 season, the Lakers adopted Bakersfield as their affiliate. Now representing the Clippers, Suns and Raptors, the Jam look to take SoCal bragging rights with a pair of wins over L.A. in a home-and-away series on Friday and Saturday night.

December 30 & 31: Dakota Marker Rivalry, Redux

Wizards vs. Skyforce

It took two years between 1891 and ’92 for Charles Bates to lay the 720 stones that marked the border between North and South Dakota. Well, more like two summers, because it’s hard to move most parts of your body during the winter in the Dakotas. So head inside (or watch on Futurecast) for the battle between North and South, mirroring the Dakota Marker Rivalry – the football game between North and South Dakota States played since 1903 to commemorate Bates’ border-markers.

These men, though their Hall of Fame busts now reside in Springfield, will not be available when the Armor take on Canton.

Jim Rogash/Getty Images
January 24, March 8 & 24: Storm the Halls

Springfield vs. Canton

Head to Canton in January or Springfield twice in March to watch the Cleveland Cavaliers’ new NBA D-League affiliate take on the Armor in a showdown of two Hall of Fame locales. Canton’s home to the pro football Hall, while Springfield hosts the Basketball Hall.

We’ll see if former Knicks great (and 1993 Heisman Trophy-winner) Charlie Ward’s available to officiate.

January 27 & 28: Battle for Airborne Supremacy

Skyforce @ BayHawks

The Skyforce name dates back to Sioux Falls’ first year in the CBA, back in 1989. And for 22-going-on-23 years, it’s been good to the team. But is it any match for the BayHawk, the semi-fictional mascot (the “Bay” part refers to Presque Isle Bay, where Erie’s situated; the hawk refers to the naval birds used to carry messages over long distances in the years before Twitter) that flies above Erie?

February 2, 3, 9: Arthropod Olympics

Mad Ants vs. Red Claws

Back in the 18th Century, inmates in the Maine prison system were fed, basically, whatever washed ashore. The resultant dish was so revolting that the inmates complained that the treatment was cruel and unusual. They were eating lobster.

Long considered a gigantic sea-insect, eating lobster ranked just above eating rats for the better part of American history. It was so bad that servants demanded, in their contracts, that they’d be fed lobster no more than three times a week. That’s since changed.

Who'll win the battle of the bugs, when Maine comes to Fort Wayne for three straight games in February? Find out on Futurecast.

February 19: I Would Fly 3,000 Miles

Jam @ Red Claws

Here’s where it gets fun for Bakersfield. After playing 19 of their first 28 games at home, the Jam hit the road. For a while. Seven games, to be exact. And to start it all of, on Feb. 19 they’ll travel the longest distance of any D-League team this year, when they go 3,101 miles to Portland to take on the Red Claws.

March 10 & 12: Southern Exposure

Sioux Falls @ Austin, Texas @ Austin

The Toros host two games during Austin’s now-famous South-by-Southwest music, film and all-around weirdness festival, which runs from Mar. 9-18. Drop into the Cedar Park Center for the pair of games and stick around for everything else. In other words, come for the hops, stay for the dubstep.

March 14 & 15: Settle it on the Court

Legends @ Stampede

The Idaho Stampede finished eighth in the standings last year, but lost out on a trip to playoff because Texas took the tie-breaker. For two nights in Boise, look for the Stampede to gain the upper hand this time around.

April 6 & 7: Shakin’ Up The Lake

Erie vs. Canton

From college football to the proper use of you’s to deciding whether or not the cole slaw should come next to or on the burger, Ohio and Pennsylvania have had their differences through the years. On Friday night, follow the BayHawks to Canton, then watch the two teams clash in Erie the next night in a two-game border battle.

Just to be safe, you might want to bring your own slaw.